For the City Times
Event to Feature Former Rafter and Current New York Yankees RHP Ben Heller
The Wisconsin Rapids Rafters have partnered with the Hotel Mead & Conference Center to hold the 4th Annual Rafters “Hot Stove” Rendezvous on Thursday, Jan. 5.
The event will feature an appearance by the first Rafter to make it to the Major Leagues, New York Yankees pitcher Ben Heller. Rafters’ field manager Craig Noto, who led the team to its first Northwoods League Championship in 2016, will also be returning to Wisconsin Rapids for the event.
Doors to the banquet will open at 6 p.m. for social hour with the hot stove baseball talk beginning at 7 p.m.. In addition to hearing about Ben Heller’s journey to the Big Leagues, other items on the agenda include a question and answer session with field manager Craig Noto and general manager John Fanta, coaching staff updates, incoming player unveilings, and proposed ballpark and menu enhancements for the 2017 season.
In addition to Craig Noto, other coaches from area baseball programs will also be on hand to speak about their upcoming seasons. Following the banquet, all special guests will be available to greet fans and sign autographs. The Northwoods League Championship trophy will also be on hand for fans to take pictures with.
Tickets are available to all fans in advance for $10 and $15 at the door. All kids 12 and under are free to attend. Tickets include access to the program, a buffet-style dinner, along with complimentary punch and water. A cash bar will also be provided by Hotel Mead. A raffle will also take place at the event for items including a 20 person Rat Trap Party, Point Craft River Tickets, signed memorabilia, and more. All money raised at this event will be put into ballpark improvements at Witter Field for the 2017 season.
Ben Heller will make his first return to Wisconsin Rapids since he was a member of the 2012 team. With the Rafters, Heller appeared in 12 games, 11 starts, and posted a 4-3 record with a 4.47 ERA. In 66.1 innings, he allowed 50 hits while striking out 63. Subsequent to his tenure at Olivet Nazarene University, Heller was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 22nd round of the 2013 MLB June amateur draft.
Heller began his professional career with Low-A Mahoning Valley in the New York Penn League, progressing through the Indians farm system and reaching Triple-A Columbus in 2016. On July 31, 2016 he was traded along with former Rafters closer J.P. Feyereisen and two other players to the New York Yankees for left-handed relief pitcher Andrew Miller. Following the trade, Heller appeared in six games with the Yankees Triple-A affiliate, the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Railriders. In four minor league seasons, Heller has appeared in 156 games, posting a 9-9 record, and 2.72 ERA to go along with 32 saves. Using a fastball that sits in the high 90s and has touched 100 mph on occasion, he has pitched 178.2 innings, allowing only 125 hits while striking out 233 batters.
On August 26, Heller made his Major League debut at Yankee Stadium against the Baltimore Orioles, becoming the first former Rafters player to make it to The Show. He pitched a scoreless inning, allowing one baserunner to reach via error before getting third baseman Manny Machado to ground into an inning ending double play. In his first cup of coffee, Heller appeared in 10 games for the Yankees striking out 6 batters in 7 innings pitched. He picked up his first Major League win on August 31 against the Kansas City Royals.
Craig Noto will return to Wisconsin Rapids for the first time since he guided the Rafters to their first Northwoods League Championship. Under his leadership, Noto oversaw a team that tied or broke 21 team records last season. It was announced in September that Noto would return for his third season with the Rafters in 2017. He has a career record of 86-58 (.597 winning percentage), including playoffs, during his two Northwoods League seasons as the Rafters’ skipper.
Tickets to the Hot Stove Rendezvous are available now and can be purchased by calling the Rafters office at 715-424-5400 or by stopping into the MADA Rafthouse Team Shop at Witter Field. The Rafters office hours are Monday–Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.